Jack Serle writes at the Bureau of Investigative Jounalism:
For more than two decades Somalia has been pummelled by a bloody conflict. The country has suffered warlords, invading neighbours, Islamic extremists and international misadventures in two decades of civil war.
In the report Criminal Reprisals: Kenyan Police and Military Abuses Against Ethnic Somalis, Human Rights Watch (HRW) documents yet more instances of human rights abuses and brutality stemming from the war. As fighting from this asymmetrical conflict has spilled over into neighbouring countries, civilians have suffered at the hands of the militants and their government.
Although various belligerents have battled for the control of Somalia over the years, the war is currently being fought by al Qaeda-linked group al Shabaab against the weak but internationally supported Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and UN-backed African Union peacekeepers.
Alongside this fight, a covert war is going on.
The Bureau has been tracking the impact of the American military and the CIA in the region. Our work has shown the US has been launching air strikes against al Shabaab since at least 2007. Between 58 and 169 people have been killed in US attacks, up to 58 of them civilians.
The covert war
American special forces have been deployed on the ground to hunt down high-profile al Shabaab and al Qaeda militants. In 2006 Ethiopia invaded Somalia with financial, logistical and military support.
We have recorded strikes taking place close to the Kenyan border and Jeremy Scahill, writing in The Nation reveals Kenya is embroiled in America’s covert war. He reports Kenyan security and intelligence forces ‘have facilitated scores of renditions for the US and other governments.’ In 2007 85 people were rendered to Somalia, Scahill adds, where the CIA has a not-so-secret base next to Mogadishu’s airport.
In October 2011 Kenyan security forces marched into Somalia, apparently without warning their US allies. They went in with the stated aim of eliminating the threat posed by the al Qaeda-linked Islamic militants al Shabaab.
But the advance through al Shabaab territory was accompanied with reports of attacks on civilians, including the October 2011 shelling of a refugee camp near the town of Jilib. Following the incursion, the Islamic militant group looked to punish Kenya. After threats of violence, al Shabaab attacked a Nairobi nightclub and a crowd at a bus stop in the city, killing one and injuring 30.
After these attacks the militants’ focus shifted from the Kenyan capital to North Eastern province of the country. Home to ethnically Somali Kenyans and almost half a million Somali refugees, the province shares a 700 km border with Somalia.
HRW has compiled a list of 24 attacks in North Eastern province. According to the HRW report, Kenyan security forces and the TFG’s soldiers’ response has been inadequate, counterproductive and brutal.
Ethnic Somali Kenyans and Somali refugees have been arbitrarily rounded. They have endured extortion and savage beatings. Police and soldiers carry out their actions with impunity – the civilians feel they have no hope of redress.
Somali refugees have fled their homes because of the protracted civil war. The people have sought refuge in neighbouring countries parched by drought and famine where they have to endure hunger and disease in crowded refugee camps.
Somali Kenyans of North Eastern province have been treated like second-class citizens for more than 50 years. An uprising of Somali Kenyan secessionists was brutally put down by the Kenyan state in the early 1960s. A 28-year state of emergency followed during which ethnic Somali Kenyans were expelled from Kenya for being ‘found to have sympathy with Somalia’ and were required to carry distinctive pink identity cards.
In 1984 an estimated 2,000 Somalis were massacred by Kenyan troops in the Wagalla Massacre. Suspected bandits were rounded up and shot dead on a landing strip in Wajir district.
The egregious human rights abuses have to some extent abated but harassment persists. Farah Maalim, speaker of Kenya’s parliament, told HRW: ‘The police have always treated the population of North Eastern, Somali or Kenyan, as an ATM.’ Half a century of repression undoubtedly leaves its mark on a population, as HRW declares: ‘Each time ethnic Somalis are brutalised in North Eastern province the bitter memories of the 1984 Wagalla massacre resurface.’
Rather than investigate the attacks and pursuing the perpetrators, HRW reports the Kenyan state has instead ‘regularly rounded up local residents and refugees and beaten them.’ There is reportedly little sympathy of al Shabaab in North Eastern province.
Instead of protecting its own citizens, the reason for invading its neighbour, the Kenyan government has meted out random brutality. The actions and impunity of the Kenyan police and army is widening the rift between the people and their government.
You can read the full report here.